Politics

The Knee-Jerk Election Year

2010 is fast becoming a “knee-jerk” election year—one in which voters angrily react to the status quo and do the unexpected.
 
That certainly was the case in Arkansas, where Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln roared back from presumed doom, defied the polls and Big Labor’s war-chest, and won renomination. And in never-expected results in South Carolina’s 4th District, GOP Rep. Bob Inglis found himself running second to a challenger and headed for a runoff after making some unkind comments about well-known conservatives.  And it was the case in South Carolina’s 1st District, where a conservative who happens to be African American placed first over heirs to two of the state’s most revered Republican names.
 
And this propensity of voters to do the unexpected certainly took place in the Nevada Senate primary, where Republicans nominated Sharron Angle—the most conservative candidate with the smallest war-chest  of the major contenders—to face off against Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.  Angle did have the most vigorous grass-roots supporters, the backing of the Tea Party movement, and ran on issues such as scrapping the federal income tax and abolishing the Department of Education.
 
Here were some of the high points of the mid-year’s “Super Tuesday:”
 
Arkansas:  Blanche Beats Big Labor
 
There was no question about it: the true upset of June 8 was Sen. Blanche Lambert Lincoln’s triumph in the Democratic run-off in Arkansas.  Targeted for extinction by organized labor and pilloried by the union-fueled TV broadsides to the tune of $10 million, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Lincoln nonetheless edged out the favorite of the labor leaders and front-runner in most polls, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
 
Although Lincoln had the strong campaign assistant of the Razorback State’s most famous son, former President Bill Clinton, she just barely making it into first place (44% to 43%) over Halter in the primary May 18th.  In the run-off, Lincoln faced the television salvos and get-out-the-vote operation of the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, and liberal activists. 
 
Lincoln voted a generally liberal line (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 19.01%) but that was not enough to satisfy the AFL-CIO (whose former political director Steve Rosenthal organized the anti-Lincoln efforts on the ground) or the SEIU.  Lincoln’s “mortal sins” were initially sponsoring the unions’ cherished Employee Free Choice Act (which includes the “card-check” provision to gut the secret ballot in union elections) and then opposing the measure. She was also targeted for voting for the healthcare bill last December after much public soul-searching but then voting against the reconciliation measure that made it law this year.
 
Halter slammed the senator for her vote for the Wall Street bailout, branding Lincoln (who was backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) “Bailout Blanche.” But Lincoln campaigned hard, styled herself an independent voice for Arkansas, and outraised her opponent with strong support from the business community.
 
In the initial primary last month, the run-off was caused by a third contender, Little Rock businessman D.C. Morrison, who drew 16% of the vote against Lincoln and Halter.  An unabashed conservative Democrat, Morrison campaigned on a platform of repealing the healthcare bill and the estate tax and replacing the federal income tax with a consumption tax.
 
As to Morrison’s impact on the run-off, Rex Nelson, former political reporter and press secretary to Mike Huckabee during his governorship told me, “Probably not.  His votes were a protest vote in the primary and there was nowhere for [Morrison’s] votes to go in the run-off.  They will probably go to John Boozman in November.”
 
With her victory, Lincoln repeated the stunning come-from-behind performance of the last Arkansas senator to be forced into a run-off.  Held to under 50% of the primary vote by then-Rep. David Pryor back in 1972, the late Sen. John McClellan outcampaigned his much younger foe and demonstrated that he was still in touch with Razorback State voters.  Just as McClellan beat the odds and roared back to win 38 years ago, Lincoln did just that last night. 
Rep. Boozman, the GOP Senate nominee, led Lincoln in nearly every pre-primary survey and now appears better-than-even money to become only the second Republican senator from Arkansas since Reconstruction.
 
Arkansas: The Other Run-Offs
 
In three of the four congressional districts in Arkansas, there were open seats and run-offs.  In the 1st District, where Democrat Marion Berry is stepping down, Chad Causey won the Democratic run-off and will face farm broadcaster and GOPer Rick Crawford. 
 
In the Little Rock-based 2nd District, State Sen. Joyce Elliott, an African-American, edged out former House Speaker Robbie Willis for the Democratic nomination. Former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin, a protégé of Karl Rove, is considered better-than-even money to put the district of retiring Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder in the GOP column.
 
And in the safe GOP district that John Boozman gave up to run for the Senate, the apparent winner of the GOP nod was Rogers Mayor Steve Womack. 
 
California:  Right “Loves Chuck,” But Decide “Carly Can;” Meg’s Millions Will Meet “Gov. Moonbeam”
 
“I love Chuck DeVore,” is what Orange County businessman Richard Wagner, past president of the Orange County Lincoln Club and longtime party activist, told me last year when we spoke of the stalwart conservative state assemblyman and U.S. Senate hopeful. “But I’m just not sure he can raise the money to go all the way.  But maybe Carly can.”  He was referring to former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, also a GOP Senate hopeful and well-funded because of her personal wealth and nationwide corporate contacts.
 
What Wagner said eventually became the mantra for many Golden State conservatives, who chose the well-connected Fiorina as their nominee against leftist Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.   In near-final returns, Fiorna won a never-anticipated 58% of the primary vote, with about 22% going to liberal former Rep. Tom Campbell, and 16% to DeVore.
 
Many longtime conservatives I spoke to, while always offering praise for DeVore, nonetheless weighed in for Fiorina—in part because they felt she would have the resources to beat Boxer and also because they feared Campbell might win with a plurality.
 
“We had a number of primaries here in the 1980’s in which our guys were divided and a non-conservative won,” GOP National Committeeman Shawn Steel, a conservative activist since the Goldwater days and early Fiorina backer told me. “I spent some time talking to Carly and felt her conservatism on issues from the pro-life cause to cutting spending was genuine.  And although I had helped Chuck DeVore in his Assembly races and he had supported me for national committeeman, I believed Carly could raise the money to overtake Campbell and then have the resources to beat Boxer in a close race.”
 
Along with Steel, other conservatives who came out for first-time candidate and former John McCain advisor Fiorina were California GOP Reps. George Radanovich and Dan Lungren, former California Assemblyman and U.S. Senate hopeful Howard Kaloogian, and such nationally known conservatives as Senators Jim Inhofe (Okla.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.), and, most importantly, Sarah Palin.  The former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee focused most on Fiorina in an breakfast speech to the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List in Washington last month and strongly defended the businesswoman as a conservative and pro-lifer.  Following Palin’s address and a campaign appearance on the West Coast, Fiorina moved ahead of Campbell for the first time in the polls and continued to hold the lead.
 
Several conservatives did stick with DeVore, who has helped conservative causes and candidates since he was a teenager.  Among them were the conservative California Republican Assembly Rep. Tom McClintock, and 1992 GOP Senate hopeful Bruce Herschensohn, who served as DeVore’s honorary campaign chairman.  
But more on the right felt Fiorina could win.
 
“Don’t Feel Sorry for the Poor Guy Who Loses”
 
That was the oft-heard joke about the two Republicans vying for nomination to succeed lameduck GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Both State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former eBay chief executive officer Meg Whitman were millionaires many times over, with several press profiles characterizing Whitman (a onetime protégé of Mitt Romney during his days at the Bane Capital firm) as a billionaire.  And both used their own exchequer in what was unquestionably the most expensive race in the nation.
 
Last night, Whitman topped Poizner by a margin of 57% to 43%, after spending an eye-popping $100 million (all but $10 million of it her own).  She now faces State Attorney General and former Democratic Gov. (1974-82) Edmund “Jerry” Brown, Jr.  Once dismissed as “Governor Moonbeam” for his Toffler-esque pronouncements on the planet and other eccentricities, Brown is now 72, married, and may well have outlived many of those who ridiculed him as a mystic or “beyond the pale.”
 
The moderate-conservative Poizner, in both an interview with me last year and a speech to the Western Conservative Political Action Conference in October, spelled out an agenda that included cutting the state income tax by 10% and the state capital gains tax by 50% to generate revenue and end his state’s record deficit.  He also hit hard at Whitman for calling for a constitutional convention which Poizner said might undercut California’s initiative and referendum system and for being vague on many issues.  Whitman talked more about her record in the corporate world and vowed to run the Golden State “like a business.”
 
But Poizner suddenly began to move up in most polls last month when he seized on critical comments by Whitman about the new Arizona law dealing with illegal immigration.  With his TV spots suggesting that Whitman was soft on an issue critical to Californians, Poizner appeared on a roll.  Whitman hit back with a televised endorsement from former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, father of the state’s Proposition 187 to deny benefits to illegal immigrants (later struck down by a federal judge), and testifying to her credentials on the issue.  Whitman, who vowed she would never support amnesty for illegal immigrants, rebounded in the polls and won handily.
 
In the lone nationally watched statewide initiative in California, voters opted by a margin of 3-to-2 to scrap the present system of partisan primaries to choose state and congressional candidates in favor of a nonpartisan ballot in which all candidates regardless of party appear on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters meet in a November run-off.  Backed by Gov. Schwarzenegger and much of the business community, Proposition 14 was designed to produce more “moderate” office-holders than those who came from the “extremes” of each major party.
 
Under the system (which is in place in Washington State), candidates “will have to appeal . . .not to the extremes but to the majority, to everybody, Democrats and Republicans and independents,”  according to Schwarzenegger.
 
A similar change in the state nominating procedure passed by voters in 1996 was argued in court and eventually struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.  State GOPers are expected to launch a legal challenge to Proposition 14 soon and, if the nomination change holds up in court, opt for a caucus/convention system of designating GOP nominees in the nonpartisan races.
 
In the Fresno-area 19th District—the lone U.S. House district in California relinquished by a Republican, conservative State Sen. Jeff Denham apparently won the all-important GOP primary to succeed retiring Rep. George Radanovich.  Denham won in large part because of his strong endorsement from nine-termer Radanovich (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 94.46%).  His race attracted particular attention because of the runner-up: former Rep. (1992-2006) Richard Pombo, onetime chairman of the House Environment Committee, whose nationwide targeting by extreme environmentalists finally deposed him in a neighboring district four years ago.  The third candidate in the primary was former Fresno Mayor Jerry Patterson, also a conservative.
 
Nevada:  A GOP Angle for Replacing Reid
 
If there was any primary in the nation last night in which the growing “Tea Party” movement demonstrated its clout, it was in the Nevada Republican primary to oppose Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
 
After losing a primary for the U.S. House in ’06 and a state senate primary in ’08, former State Assemblywoman Sharron Angle roared back yesterday to top 11 GOP opponents for nomination against Reid in what is sure to be the nation’s “showcase Senate contest in 2010. 
 
Not only did rock-solid conservative Angle have the strong support of the “Tea Party Express” in the Silver State, but she had backing from the Nevada Homeschool Network, the conservative National Republican Assembly, and the Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly.
 
Her nomination with 33% of the vote was nonetheless impressive because both of her leading rivals—former State Party Chairman Sue Lowden and Las Vegas attorney Danny Tarkanian—each raised more than twice as much as Angle and boasted more big name endorsements.  Lowden, for example, was backed by the Susan B. Anthony List and Nevada Right to Life Political Action Committee and Tarkanian, son of the legendary University of Nevada basketball coach, was supported by the father of Sarah Palin.  (Palin herself remained neutral although she publicly praised Lowden).
 
But both Lowden and Tarkanian made major stumbles.  Tarkanian, who had lost a race for secretary of state in ’06, had been the beneficiary of the support of Handgun Control and endorsed by its leader Sarah Brady.  He was repeatedly forced in this campaign to deny he opposed the right to keep and bear arms, and supporters insisted that the Brady endorsement came because a campaign staffer gave a wrong answer on the anti-gun group’s questionnaire.  Lowden was dogged by a 1996 quote in the Las Vegas Sun during the Republican National Convention in which she is alleged to have said that the GOP should remove the pro-life plank from its platform.  Lowden denied the quote, insisted to me it was the work of a “liberal newspaper,” and that she had worked for the pro-life position at the convention that year (although she did not serve on the platform committee).
 
Two weeks ago, Lowden became a target of ridicule from nightclub comics when she praised a system of healthcare in which people bartered with chickens.  It was at that point that her front-runner status dropped in most polls, just as Angle’s was surging. No one questioned Angle’s conservative credentials and she campaigned unabashedly for abolishing the income tax and Department of Education and repealing the healthcare bill. 
 
The specter of Reid extended to the governor’s race.  As they were renominating Reid, Silver State Democrats nominated the senator’s son, Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid for governor.  More than a few pundits suspect that the father’s heavy-handedness behind the scenes helped discourage at least one and possibly two other Democrats from opposing his son. 
 
As expected, Brian Sandoval, former U.S. District Judge and state attorney general,  won the Republican nomination over incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons, whose term had been marred by a Democratic takeover of the state legislature and an ugly divorce.  Sandoval is a protégé of revered former Sen. Paul Laxalt (R.-Nev.) and considered a strong conservative.
 
South Carolina: Haley Tops “Peyton Place Primary”
 
If there was any state that showed evidence of a true “knee-jerk” primary—one in which voters reacted sharply against the status quo by voting for the unexpected—it was clearly South Carolina.
 
The Republican primary to select a candidate to succeed lameduck GOP Gov. Mark Sanford could easily be a chapter from Grace Metallious’s steamy 1950’s best-seller Peyton Place.  Coming a year after Sanford’s notorious “hiking along the Appalachian Trail” that ended his marriage and presidential ambitions, the recent Republican goings on in the Palmetto State could make a sequel to Peyton Place.
 
Despite sensational charges from two men that she had relations with them, State Rep. Nikki Haley topped the  four-candidate race and will compete against runner-up and Rep. Gresham Barrett in a run-off next month.  Haley–a magnetic Indian American often likened to Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal—saw her candidacy skyrocket in the polls after she received the endorsement of Sarah Palin last month.  In addition, the 38-year-old Haley benefited from the endorsement of Jenny Sanford, the outgoing governor’s former wife. 
 
In spite of the charges against her (one of the two accusers being a political consultant for Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, another GOP gubernatorial candidate), Haley’s numbers in most polls either stayed the same or increased as she appeared with her husband and patiently dismissed the accusations of adultery.
 
All four Republican hopefuls were considered strong conservatives and had few issue differences.  But Haley is likely to gain from the fact that Barrett, despite an overall conservative voting record in Congress (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 97%), had angered many on the right by voting for the TARP bailout funds. 
 
S.C.-4:  The Inglis Lesson 
 
Even more unexpected than Haley’s performance was the pummeling of six-term Rep. Bob Inglis by fellow Republicans in the 4th District (Greenville-Spartanburg).  The veteran lawmaker and 1998 U.S. Senate nominee placed second to Spartanburg Solicitor Trey Gowdy, who led by a margin of 39% to 27%.
 
What happened, the so-called “experts” wondered last night to a lawmaker considered a strong conservative (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 93%) and whose re-election was regarded as fait accompli?  Like Gresham Barrett, Inglis’s vote for the financial bailout aggravated many on the right who had been past enthusiasts.  More recently, the congressman exacerbated the situation  by saying that Fox News commentator Glenn Beck should “shut up” and criticizing fellow Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-S.C.) for his outburst during the President’s address to Congress last year. 
 
Former federal prosecutor Gowdy slammed the incumbent, rallied conservative activists, and goes into the run-off two weeks from now a decided favorite. 
 
In the 3rd District vacated by Barrett, the GOP run-off contenders were ice cream business owner and pro-life leader Richard Cash (25%) and State House Agriculture Committee Chairman Jeff Duncan (23%).  Both were considered conservatives with few issue differences but Cash regarded as more the outsider and activist. 
 
SC-1:  Some Sons Rise, Some Don’t   
 
Still another surprise occurred in the 1st District (Charleston) vacated by ten-year Republican Rep. Henry Brown.  The top vote-getter among Republicans was State Rep. Tim Scott, the lone Republican African American in the state legislature, who led eight opponents with 31% of the vote. 
 
But what was most stunning about Scott’s showing was just who he was overtaking:  34-year-old Paul Thurmond, Charleston County councilman, attorney, and son of the late and revered Sen. Strom Thurmond (R.-S.C.), and Carroll A. Campbell III, namesake-son of the late governor from 1986-94. 
 
With more than 30 buildings and monuments named for his father (who also served as governor and ran for President on the State’s Rights ticket in 1948), young Thurmond was considered a cinch to finish first.  He got 16% of the vote—just slightly ahead of young Campbell (14%), whose father was a revered figure on the right and player in national GOP politics. 
 
Thurmond now finds himself an underdog against Scott in the run-off in two weeks.  One long GOP activist and Thurmond supporter said that “the idea of sending the first black Republican to the House in eight years was just more appealing to Republican voters here than saluting the man we called ‘the Senator’ by electing his son.”
 
However, in the GOP primary for the office of attorney general, the son of Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-S.C.) was eking out a lead over two opponents.  Alan Wilson, a former county prosecutor and U.S. Army veteran, will face attorney Leighton Lord in the run-off June 22nd. 
 
Clearly, his father’s now-famous “You Lie!” outburst is not a hindrance—not among South Carolina Republicans, anyway.
 
Iowa: “Back to the Future” 
 
Nelson Rockefeller of New York, George Wallace of Alabama, Bill Janklow of South Dakota, James Rhodes of Ohio, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Edwin Edwards of Louisiana all have the distinction of winning four four-year terms as governors of their respective states.
 
But it is rare in history to find anyone who won a fifth four-year term as chief executive of a state.  Last night, conservative Republican Terry Branstad took the first step toward that achievement by winning the Republican primary for the governorship he held from 1982-98.  Branstad now faces Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, son of former Sen. (1974-80) John Culver (D.-Iowa), who has become unpopular because of increasing the state’s cigarette tax and the size of state spending by more than 10%, while giving state teachers a pay raise.
 
As lieutenant governor under his moderate GOP predecessor Robert Ray (1968-82), Branstad was the Iowan conservatives looked to for leadership at the statehouse.  As governor, he compiled a strong record of holding down taxes and spending.  Branstad defeated two opponents, including ’06 lieutenant governor nominee Bob Vander Platts, who had the support of Mike Huckabee, and Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family.
 
In the 3rd U.S. House District (Des Moines), no less than seven Republicans competed for nomination to oppose Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell in what is considered the most vulnerable Democratic-held House seat in the Hawkeye State.  The GOP winner was State Sen. Brad Zaun, small businessman, former Urbandale mayor, and strong conservative. 
 
Conservatives also have their eye on Brenna Findley, who won the GOP nod to oppose longtime State Attorney General Tom Miller.  Findley, former top aide to stalwart conservative Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa), has  outraised Miller, who has been the Hawkeye State’s top lawman for so long he is known as the “eternal general.”
 
Virginia:  Tea Brewed Differently
 
Much of the national press profiled the three contested Republican U.S. House primaries in Virginia for seats won by Democratic incumbents in ’08 as showdowns between the GOP establishment and the budding “Tea Party” movement.
 
But all the races were more complex than that. Because there are numerous Tea Party organizations throughout the Old Dominion, many of them were divided between competing GOP candidates. Moreover, there were relatively few major differences on substantive issues between GOP competitors, establishment or otherwise.
 
In the 11th District (Northern Virginia), businessman and ’08 nominee Keith Fimian differed little with primary foe and Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity (although local GOPers told me Fimian appeared more willing to voice his pro-life stand and social conservatism).  Fimian defeated Herrity, son of the late County Board Chairman Jack Herrity, by a convincing margin and will face a rematch Democratic Rep. Gerry Connelly.
 
In the 5th District (Charlottesville), State Sen. Robert Hurt topped two opponents who were political outsiders and did so by a double-digit margin.  His opponents were identified in the press as “Tea Partiers,” but Hurt had some support among the Tea Party groups and a generally conservative record in Richmond.  He will now go up against freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello.
 
Possibly the biggest difference in the candidates was that in the 2nd District.  Car dealer and U.S. Marine Corps reservist Scott Rigell came under fire from his five opponents for contributing to Barack Obama in ’08.  He explained that he wanted to defeat Hillary Clinton, was worried John McCain might not be able to do it, and believed it was time to elect a black President.  While some on the right felt this was a lame explanation, Rigell won with the backing of GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell and will now oppose Democratic Rep. Glenn Nye.
 
Georgia:  A Graves Situation
 
Georgia’s 9th District, which Rep. Nathan Deal resigned to run full-time for the Republican nomination for governor, featured a run-off between two Republicans.  In this case, the race was a clear cut victory between the “establishment” and the outsiders.  In this case, the outsiders won with former State Rep. Tom Graves drawing 55% of the vote with the backing of the Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, and many Tea Party organizations.  He defeated the “establishment” favorite, former State Sen. Lee Hawkins, who was backed by Rep. John Linder (R.-Ga.). 
 
New Jersey:  Runyan On the Field
 
Two years after Republican internecine warfare gave New Jersey’s 3rd U.S. House District to liberal Democrat John Adler, Garden State GOPers are pumped up about retaking the South Jersey seat.  The GOP nod went to former NFL star Jon Runyan, who is well-known in the district from his years playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. 


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